Award-winning 305 Seven Farms Apartments Hits 10 Year Milestone
December 7, 2006, marked the arrival of clustered affordable housing on Daniel Island. The complex known as 305 Seven Farms Apartments, a development of the Humanities Foundation and the winner of the 2010 Development of the Year Award from the South Carolina Housing Finance and Development Authority, has been changing lives on Daniel Island for a decade.
At the apartment community’s dedication ceremony, then Mayor Joe Riley described the moment’s significance:
“This is a special place if, in the final analysis, it’s shared, if we work affirmatively knowing we’ve done something for the greater good to make sure affordable housing is provided for Daniel Island.”
The celebration of the complex’s recent 10 year anniversary passed quietly - a remarkable contrast to the intensity of the controversy that marked its beginning.
Tim Callanan, deputy supervisor for Berkeley County and former Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) president, believes that the community became polarized after plans for the project were announced - due at least in part to an exchange in The Daniel Island News in early 2005.
In an article, Jerry Simmons, then vice president of community services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association, was quoted as saying, “Certain people went around with a petition (against the project) and someone presented it to (Charleston) City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell. He would not accept it, and he denounced the people of Daniel Island as elitist.”
Residents both in favor of the complex and opposed weighed in with subsequent letters to the editor. Those against were concerned the low income subsidized housing community would bring crime and related problems - and ultimately a loss in property values on Daniel Island. The back and forth exchanges fueled discontent.
“That really got people charged up,” Callanan says.
The ensuing reaction highlighted communications problems between the Daniel Island Company, the City of Charleston, and Daniel Island residents.
The Guggenheim Foundation’s Covenant with the City of Charleston mandated affordable housing and envisioned it as distributed throughout the community, with the hope that disadvantaged residents would not be readily differentiated from their neighbors. This message had been communicated to Daniel Island Homeowners in the 2001 Housing Plan.
Unfortunately, there was no viable funding for this type of development, notes Tracy Doran, founder and president of the Humanities Foundation. There was funding, however, for clustered residences. Daniel Island residents learned of the changed circumstances as the development was announced.
Opposition was fierce. DINA called for a traffic study to be completed, then challenged the zoning of the project before the Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals. Subsequently, DINA sued the city over the matter. The group was represented by then Daniel Island resident and attorney David Cobb. As this meeting was happening, Charleston City Council was approving the first reading of a bill to amend the zoning language in question to support the city’s interpretation.
At the latter meeting, discussions deteriorated, with some City Council members accusing DINA members of racial and economic prejudice.
Callanan, then head of DINA’s Land Use and Development Committee, says “I learned that you can’t oppose any aspect of affordable housing without being called a racist.”
“We were never against affordable housing,” he continues. “We made it clear that we supported affordable housing that abided by the 2001 Housing Plan and DINA would provide any help necessary to make that happen, but you never hear about that.”
In August of 2006, shortly after Callanan was elected President of DINA, members voted to drop the lawsuits and appeals they had filed over the project.
The Seven Farms Apartment dedication took place on December 7, 2006 with 55 families ready to move in. Today 72 individuals and families call the complex home.
“It was a tough fight,” says Doran, but she was pretty confident of the outcome. “Mayor Riley was very adamant that this was going to happen.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FILLS A NEED
According to its mission statement, the Humanities Foundation was created in 1992 “to develop the highest quality affordable and workforce housing possible, while enhancing the lives of our residents and improving the communities in which we develop through affordability, education and advocacy.”
The foundation has developed and supports 17 properties in South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana that provide over 2000 units of affordable and workforce housing.
For the Seven Farms Apartments, Doran says, “The funding source that we utilize is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program. We have to compete for those credits from the South Carolina Housing Agency and 72 units was, at that point in time, the maximum that could be funded.” A fewer number of units would not have produced the economies of scale needed for the project to be viable.
In order to qualify for low-income housing, an applicant must make below 60 percent of the area’s median family income, which for Charleston is currently $62,900. An individual can make around $24,000 and still qualify. For a worker with a full-time job, that means they can make $11.75 per hour, or 62 percent more than South Carolina’s minimum wage. Rents are designed to be approximately 30 percent of their income. Residents receive no subsidies.
People living at that level need a lot of support to remain successful with their housing, adds Doran.
“We have a food program, for example,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, those poor folks, they don’t have enough to eat.’ Well, that’s not really it. People who are living with these income levels, if they have anything happen—car breaks down, medical bills—the first thing they don’t purchase is meat or fresh produce. We have set up a food program for all of our properties. We deliver twice a month—fresh produce, fresh frozen protein, and dry goods.”
Since April of 2014, the Humanities Foundation has delivered 400,000 pounds of food.
“What we’re doing through programs like that is keeping people successful in their housing,” says Doran. “If they have anything happen, any kind of emergency, they may not be able to pay their rent. We’re able to help them be more stable.”
It is in the area of support that Daniel Island shows its acceptance and encouragement of affordable housing.
“The Daniel Island Fund gives us money every year for our summer camp,” continues Doran “and the Rotary Club is a partner in the Turkey Dinner Give Away at Thanksgiving. Mass Mutual SC provides ongoing support. Reverend Flowers of Providence Baptist Church has been a great help.”
Daniel Island residents also participate in an after school mentoring program. Saint Clare of Assisi Catholic Church, St. Vincent DePaul, and The Church of the Holy Cross, all provide support through social, recreational, financial and educational programs.
ONE RESIDENT'S STORY
For Seven Farms Apartments resident Shari Chavez Ergle, the facility has been a lifesaver.
After a difficult divorce, where her husband literally “sailed off into the sunset,” Ergle found herself in dire financial straits with few marketable skills. Homelessness was looking likely.
While picking up food stamps, she overheard two people taking about East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO) and became determined to find out what they had to offer.
Turns out it was a lot. One of the most important contributions was encouraging her to get on the waiting list for affordable housing on Daniel Island. The exact number of people waiting cannot be divulged, but it is extremely hard to get into the community and most who finally do get in don’t want to leave.
“I found out that the waiting list was months and months long,” says Ergle, “and I said to myself, ‘there is just no way.’ Then all of a sudden I was just so incredibly blessed, the good Lord was looking out for me.”
Ergle got a call that one of the residents needed to move into a smaller place and an opening was available.
As she moved in, she says a conversation with her son, Kyle, now enrolled in a Master’s Program at the College of Charleston, helped her commit to “changing her story.” She threw herself into all the part-time work she could find (at one time, she worked six part-time jobs)— and availed herself of all the programs ECCO had to offer.
“I decided to go through all their programs,” she says. “Money Smart was one of the classes. It helps you learn to budget, but I thought I didn’t really have anything to budget.” The job skills she learned there have helped turn one of her part-time jobs into a full-time job with benefits with Daniel Island Real Estate. She is so thankful to ECCO that she volunteers as a spokesperson and does fundraising for both ECCO and the Trident United Way, which helps fund the program.
“I’m not yet where I want to be,” says Ergle, “but I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I feel very comfortable and safe.”
Safety of the residents is important to Lamar Mowatt, Humanities Foundation’s director of resident services.
“What people don’t realize,” he says, “is that there are hundreds of rules and regulations imposed by state and national government that we have to follow. Residents could lose their housing and we could possibly lose our funding if we don’t comply. Those rules and regulations are much stricter than for your average conventional community.”
SAFE AND SOUND
After 10 years on the island, it seems that early worries over potential crime-related problems at the complex have not come to fruition. The Charleston Police Department’s Lieutenant James Byrne, commander of Daniel Island-based Team 5, confirms that “over the years, 305 Seven Farms and (neighboring) Seven Farms Village have created no more demand for police services than the other areas that Team 5 serves. We have responded to incidents both at the property and involving its residents, but the same is true for every other neighborhood and residential complex on Daniel Island.”
For Daniel Island Company President Matt Sloan, 305 Seven Farms Drive is an integral and important part of the island community.
“I am as proud of the success of this workforce housing community as I am of any aspect of Daniel Island,” says Sloan. “Workforce housing was an important part of the development of the Island. After the initial controversy, it’s grown into a well-received part of the community. Our team is very proud to have worked with the Humanities Foundation on this component of Daniel Island.”
“If we continue to stay true to our mission statement,” adds Mowatt, “the facility is nearly invisible. The people who live here are not affordable housing residents, they are Daniel Island residents.”